As a critic, George Bernard Shaw often railed against the melodramatic theaters of his day. As a playwright, he embraced it, never more so than in 1897’s The Devil’s Disciple, which features downtrodden orphans, mistaken identities, last-minute reprieves, and some very jolly costumes. But under Tony Walton’s direction, the Irish Rep has given Shaw’s tongue-in-cheek play an all-too-serious revival. Though redcoats and raillery abound, no one seems to be having nearly enough fun with it.
Set in colonial America, the play concerns Dick Dudgeon (Lorenzo Pisoni), a charming rake and the self-proclaimed Satanist of the title. Actually, Dick’s no fan of the dark arts, but the coldness of his mother’s Puritan household has led him to side with the opposition. Pisoni, though, never seems altogether comfortable in the role. Nor do any of the actors, save John Windsor-Cunningham as a sensible British general. But even actorly stiffness can’t spoil the best of Shaw’s bon mots, like the play’s comment on martyrdom: “It is the only way a man can become famous without ability.”